Blame game starts over king's big game Botswana escapade

PM's office was told monarch would be out of the country WWF informs palace of public disgust at elephant hunting

Queen Sofía arriving at the USP San José Hospital in Madrid this morning.
Queen Sofía arriving at the USP San José Hospital in Madrid this morning.CHEMA MOYA (EFE)

The fallout from King Juan Carlos’ previously unannounced hunting trip to Botswana -- where he fell and had to be flown back to Madrid to undergo hip-replacement surgery -- continued to snowball Monday with opposition leaders suggesting that the monarch should apologize for continuing his jet-set lifestyle while the country suffers its worst economic crisis since democracy was restored.

The 74-year-old monarch was sitting up watching television and reading the newspapers Monday at USP San José Hospital in Madrid, where he underwent the operation on Saturday. The king broke his hip joint and the tip of his femur after falling at the hunting camp where he was staying in Botswana when he got up in the night to the bathroom, according to the Royal Palace.

Queen Sofía, who was in her native Greece, to celebrate Orthodox Easter on Sunday with her family, flew back and visited the king early Monday morning for 15 minutes. “He will be released soon. Thank you for your concern,” the queen told reporters as she left the hospital.

But concerns for the monarch’s prognosis were quickly being outweighed by criticisms from different political sectors and from environmentalists over King Juan Carlos’ hunting expeditions as Spain fights a brutal debt and economic crisis.

We don’t comment on the king’s private life, whether we like or not what he is doing"

“It wouldn’t be a bad idea for the king to apologize,” Basque regional premier Patxi López, a Socialist, told a radio station, while also acknowledging that the monarch also needs some private time for himself. “It wouldn’t set a bad precedent.”

Jurist Gregorio Peces-Barba, one of the architects of the 1977 Constitution, also believes that the king should issue a public apology because he considered the trip “a blunder” and “a mistake” but didn’t think that this latest incident would jeopardize the monarchy as an institution.

WWF España, the Spanish branch of the NGO World Wide Fund For Nature, began sending Zarzuela Royal Palace scores of complaints that it has gotten from its members concerning the king’s hunting activities. The outrage among environmentalists was ignited when photographs, taken some years back and posted on a company’s website to promote hunting safaris, showing the king posing before a shot elephant and two oxen, began circulating the web this weekend and were published in EL PAÍS.

“WWF reiterates its commitment to elephant conservation, which we have been doing for 50 years, fighting against illegal hunting, the unlawful trafficking of ivory, and the destruction of habitats, not only in countries such as Botswana where the elephant population has now reached 130,000 and hunting is regulated, but in other nations in Africa and Asia where populations are threatened,” the organization said in a statement. The king is the honorary president of WWF España.

WWF reiterates its commitment to elephant conservation, which we have been doing for 50 years"

Meanwhile, the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has tried to stay out of the fray. “We are not going to enter into the controversy. I have never seen any government having to explain the Royal Household’s private activities,” said María Dolores de Cospedal, the ruling Popular Party (PP) secretary general and regional premier of Castillla-La Mancha.

The Royal Household said on Sunday that Rajoy had been informed of the Botswana trip. But La Moncloa sources said that the prime minister knew that the king would be out of the country last week, but did not confirm that the actual location and nature of the trip had been discussed.

The Socialists’ Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba took a similarly neutral stance, but appeared willing to transmit his party members’ discontent to the king. “We don’t comment on the king’s private life, whether we like or not what he is doing. I understand there is a lot of criticism over what has occurred; if there are things that I don’t like then I will ask him for a private meeting so I can tell him.”

On Sunday, Tomás Gómez, the leader of Madrid Socialist Party (PSM), said that the time had come for the king “to choose between his obligations and public duties, and abdication, which would allow him to enjoy a different life.”

The king’s accident is the latest in a string of incidents that have showed the monarchy in an unfavorable light. On Saturday, the king’s former son-in-law, Jaime de Marichalar, was questioned by Civil Guard authorities in Soria about the April 9 shooting accident in which the monarch’s grandson, Felipe Juan Froilán, was hit in the foot.

Initial reports say that the 13-year-old Froilán was at target practice range with his father, but Queen Sofía offered another version suggesting that the two were out hunting when the accident occurred.

The incident drummed up memories of what happened in 1956, when Juan Carlos, then 18, accidentally shot and killed his 14-year-old brother Alfonso while handling a gun in Estoril, Portugal, where their father was living in exile.

Civil Guard authorities say that Froilán was not of legal age to be using a shotgun under Spanish law.

The monarchy has also come under scrutiny over the past six months following the ongoing investigation and indictment of Iñaki Urdangarin, the king’s son-in-law, who faces charges over the alleged diversion of money from some three million euros in contracts he received from the Balearic Islands government to his private companies. A judge will decide in the coming weeks whether Urdangarin, the husband of Princess Cristina, will stand trial.

The entire investigation prompted the Zarzuela Royal Palace last year to begin releasing its expenditures on an official website.


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